Adventure. Excitement. A juror craves not these things.
“I am free,” I said confidently one bright and sunny Friday night, dialing the phone number from memory. Fate stopped what she was doing and looked my way. I fell back into the couch, carelessly flung a foot onto the coffee table and put the phone to my ear. The eyes of Fate widened. I dangled the cheese of a self-satisfied grin in the face of Fate. My smugness was too much. Fate would soon pounce.
My service period as a petit juror was ending. For a full month, I had made anxious, weekly calls to the U.S. District Court of Southern Ohio for instructions. Each time, the interactive voice response system, a smiling robot lady, could have told me to report to the courthouse for jury duty the following week. Instead, she tenderly repeated:
You are currently (slight pause) not scheduled (another pause) to appear for jury duty at this time. Please check back next week.
I reveled in this message to the point of giddiness. Don’t misunderstand me, I recognized the importance of jury service to my community, nay, to democracy itself, at least in the beginning. I read the summons months earlier and felt my chest puff the patriot’s puff. Here stood a citizen ready to tether himself to the Constitution of the United States of America, willing and able to immerse himself in this pageant of our country’s core values: equality, deliberation and the administration of justice. The uncertainty and disruption of my life were but small prices to pay for such an honor.
As I splayed across my couch in cocky repose, entering my participant number with my phone’s keypad, I was over all of that. The puff had worn off. Besides, I reasoned, they wouldn’t bring me in so late in the month. There couldn’t possibly be enough time left for a trial. I was free.
Smiling Robot Lady’s voice was different this time. Replacing her smooth, mechanical tone was the holier-than-thou demeanor of a sibling telling you that they were telling on you.
You are currently … SCHEDULED … to appear for jury duty next Tuesday at eight o’clock a.m. …
The message blew one large bubble of incredulity into my brain and countless smaller bubbles into my lower intestine. My haughty spirit had antagonized Fate and, there in my living room on that cold and grey Friday night, she burned me down. When I called two dozen more times over the weekend, the message remained unchanged, laced with an unspoken nyah nyah nyah.
… Please note that cell phones and other electronic devices are … now(t) … permitted in the Courthouse.
Wait, what was that? Did Smiling Robot Little Sister say, “now permitted?” Or was it “not?” Should I leave my phone in my car? What if I brought my phone up to the ninth floor only to find out such devices weren’t allowed? I would have to return it to my car all the way back in the parking garage. I would be late. I would be held in contempt of court. Calls to the U.S. District Court of Southern Ohio went unanswered. Bubbles of anxious gas grew larger but refused to crown.
I’ve been told that I don’t deal well with disruptions to my routine. It probably just looks that way because I prefer a daily schedule that’s strict, patterned, systematic and perhaps somewhat oppressive, and when that schedule is molested, I tend to throw a tantrum like a wired tot at the end of screen time. But now, in my stages of Jury Duty Grief, I moved from Anger to Bargaining.
Perhaps, I thought, I could serve as petit juror from the comfort of my couch via video conference, say, between the hours of two and four p.m. One can easily picture a jury box of the not-too-distant future: 12 plastic bar stools supporting 12 tablets displaying 12 pixellated humans repeatedly saying, “Sorry, didn’t quite get that.” Think of how much the courts would save on chair padding alone. Think of how much better the courtrooms would smell. Would the Court support this innovative approach, or was I too far ahead of my time? I added it to my list of things to bring up with the U.S. District Court of Southern Ohio if I could ever get them on the phone.
I eventually just had to accept that, come Tuesday morning, I would report for jury duty. A healthy cup of Tough Chicken Self Love Soup for the Petit Juror’s Soul was prescribed by my wife, neighbor, cat, oil change service technician, wood sculpture of a bear in my backyard, and everybody else I tortured with my whining. By the end of the weekend, I resolved to face my big, smelly duty with dignity.
Chilly Tuesday morning arrived and, with breakfast in hand, I rolled out of my apartment complex at three o’clock a.m. giving myself a solid five hours to drive the 11 miles to the courthouse. Yet even with my tumbler of Eight O’Clock Translucent Roast, my Sara Lee blueberry crumb bag, Steve Inskeep and friends sharing stories, and my ample amount of alone time, I wasn’t fully prepared for the roller coaster day that lay ahead and the lesson I would learn about man’s inhumanity to man.